Radiohead Fitter Happier Unreleased Video
I was a music video director in London working with a production company called Maverick Media. I was touting around for music video projects at the time and my producer, Will Jefferies, had heard from one of his contacts at EMI that Radiohead were planning on releasing a video album for OK Computer, but that they were still short a few tracks and that we should get in touch.
When I heard this I was very excited because like very many others, I just loved the album, which had come out just a few months earlier, so much. The thought of an opportunity to work with Radiohead was obviously massively exciting, so my producer set up the meeting with the video commissioner at the label.
My plan was to do such a brilliant pitch so that they would be bowled over, but I didn’t know what tracks they were looking for so decided to be proactive and settled on working up a pitch for Fitter Happier, which I had figured was most likely to be the awkward one that would be hard to make a video for and was therefore most likely to be up for grabs (very cut throat world music videos!). My plan was to use loops from adverts that we would recreate if we got the commission, along with some graphic elements, so I taped loads of adverts & made about thirty seconds of the idea as a demo.I had made a video for LFO (a techno band from Sheffield) which got into the charts and ended up on the TV even though it was made mostly from Twin Peaks footage. Because it was close up and unrecognisable I thought I might get away with it again for Fitter Happier, but the plan was that what I made would have the footage replaced - in a way I'm pleased it wasn’t in the end as I like it the way it is now, has a certain aesthetic.
My producer and I met with the commissioner at the record label, I can’t remember her name, she was very cagey about specific details but she seemed to really respond well to the demo - I seem to remember her nodding, smiling & saying ‘Thom would really like this’, and to be honest that was all I needed to hear, of course Thom would love it... So, with youthful naivety, wishful thinking and the arrogance of self-belief, I thought the commission was as good as mine.
Over the next few weeks I put every spare hour into the video. The production company had TV facilities that they also rented out, so I had access evenings and weekends to one of the very early non-linear edit systems that worked at broadcast resolution (an Avid media composer - but the fancy one that did 4:2:2. It was some piece of kit, crazy you have more power on an iPhone now, it was laughable by today’s standards). The suite was like a spaceship and to have made the video at market rates for it would have cost a small fortune. My technical issues began quite soon, as there wasn’t enough memory to run nine loops of split screen at once, I would start the render off when I went to go home, usually in the early hours, then get back early to clear up (ready for whoever had paid to use the suite that day) only to find that the system had crashed in the middle of the night. I eventually began to run sections back onto tape, and found a way to mix down all the layers into a single layer, but if you made a mistake you would have to go back and unpick everything again to fix it - it was excruciating. Then, when all the loops were in place, your eye didn’t know where to look and the video didn’t quite work. About a week later I added a black outline that faded in and shrunk, pulling the viewers eye to the next loop as it was about to start.
After about a month when the video was nearly done, I finally got back in to see the video commissioner, and the news wasn’t good, there was now to be no video album project... bugger. She looked really quite embarrassed as I insisted on showing her what I had now done, a nearly complete video. I wasn’t very happy about this of course, but I thought as long as the band get to see it they’ll love it and are bound to use it, but, alas, when I broached this with her, she said the band were too busy touring to be watching videos. This really wound me up, so I insisted that after all this effort the least she could do was send it to them, to which she slightly reluctantly agreed.
After a couple of weeks of being fed up with the whole thing I decided that I needed to finish it off. My producer wasn’t very happy with me when I booked edit suite time to complete the video, I had already spent probably a hundred hours plus on it, and he didn’t see the point as no one would ever see it but I considered it to be video art and needed to see it through, so I ended up doing it on the sly on the back of other, paying, project time. When it was finally done I sent four copies to the record company to forward to the band. I never heard from them again, think I had been too much of a pain in the arse, and it may be wishful thinking but I like to think the band did see it.
Twenty-two years later I am still very proud of the video. I think it really works, and is just perfect for the track. In a parallel universe somewhere there is an OK Computer DVD sat on a shelf with ‘Fitter Happier’ directed by James Engwell written on the back.
- 2019-07-05 05:52:02
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